Passion Play

June 1, 2013, Department, by Elizabeth Beard

Beth Beard, Managing EditorSometimes it’s easy to get the feeling that people take their parks for granted. For example, in my neighborhood, we have a modest little park with a softball field, playground, tennis court and basketball court. Before I came to NRPA, I rarely thought about how it was mowed, what factors went into selecting the playground equipment or how it came to exist in that particularly hilly location. Of course, now that I am in the parks field, instead I wonder about micro-details such as, “How much did that memorial bench cost?” or “Who inspected that old tree and decided it had to go?” and “Did that softball team reserve the field online?” But I admit that previously, this little park was just a nice neighborhood amenity to me and hardly the focus of strong emotions — and I bet most of my neighbors feel the same.

But when people sense that their parks are threatened in some way, the passion comes out. Just ask Mayor Ed Lee in San Francisco, where an issue as seemingly trivial as which coffee trucks can serve which parks can spark weeks of public debate. Or take the case of Union Square Park in New York, where a move to convert a historic pavilion into a restaurant brought about legal action to stop it from taking over even a small percentage of public space. And of course, this month’s protests in Istanbul, ignited by the proposed construction of a shopping mall at Gezi Park, show just how far people will go to protect their local park.

That’s why it’s refreshing when, instead of talking about how angry people can be about threats to their parks, we can talk instead about how joyful they are when a new park is opened. As Danielle Taylor explores in our cover story, this year’s Parks Build Community project is our biggest yet, where a flood-prone area in an underserved community in Houston is being transformed into a playfully imaginative bayou-themed park. It’s fun imagining the squeals of delight from the kids at the playground and splashpad while parents and other adults stroll the paths for the first time. Soon, Shady Lane Park will become a neighborhood institution — maybe not one that residents think about every day, but one that becomes such a fundamental part of life that passions may indeed run deep under the surface. And that passion is something park and recreation professionals know better than to take for granted.

Elizabeth Beard, Managing Editor